March 28, 2017 | The Jerusalem Post

Anti-BDS Bill Passes in Texas Senate

Texas has been a hotbed of anti-BDS activity in recent days, with the passage of a bill in the Senate on Wednesday that will bar state contracts and investment in companies that boycott Israel, and mounting criticism by Jewish organizations of a local bank’s BDS activity.

Chuck Lindell from the American-Statesman paper reported that the Texas Senate passed the bill opposing BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) by a 25-4 vote and that it was sent to the Texas House of Representatives for a vote. “No senators spoke in opposition to [bill] SB 29 before the vote,” the paper reported, adding that the bill’s author, Sen. Brandon Creighton, said Texas should not do business with companies that participate in the BDS movement.

One such company, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), maintains an account with the Dallas-based Comerica bank.

“Comerica should close the account,” said Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith, an organization that testified on Wednesday in Texas in support of the anti-BDS bill. The IADL ”excuses the actions of terrorist organizations and denies Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Like other financial institutions, Comerica does not have to provide everyone with an account or a loan, he said. “Banks have recognized that they should not truck or have business with these types [BDS] of accounts.”

The IADL supports Iran’s nuclear program and has a chapter in communist North Korea.

Jan Fermon, the secretary-general of IADL and a Belgium-based lawyer, wrote the The Jerusalem Post by email in early March that, “Regarding BDS, IADL supports this movement.”

He added, “IADL engaged in solidarity with the Palestinian people in a very early stage of its existence because it considers the violations of international law and human rights law… by the Israeli authorities as a major obstacle to a just and lasting peace in the region.”

Charles Kaufman, who chairs B’nai B’rith’s International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, delivered testimony in the Austin legislature in support of the anti-BDS bill. Kaufman, who lives in Texas, said, “In another time, in another place in history, people who wanted to rid the earth of the Jewish people boycotted their businesses. Filled with fear, these good citizens, stripped of their possessions, separated from their families, would subsequently fill boxcars… and you the know rest.

“Today is different, the Jewish people have a state, Israel, their ancestral homeland, a home shared with Christians and Muslims and many other faiths,” he said. “And yet, there are people who still want to rid the earth of Israel and demonize Jews in a shocking reply of antisemitism. The talk of a boycott is back. It is back in the form of an appalling spreading disease called BDS – against Texas’s fourth largest trading partner.

“The BDS movement would like you to believe that this effort will pressure Israel to make existential concessions to enemies who seek its destruction. This is simply the latest in a litany of false narratives that is threatening a democracy and a free world,” said Kaufman.

“Do Texans share the values of individual freedom, tolerance, mutual respect and pluralism with Israel? Absolutely, yes. Do we share a spirit of discovery, enterprise and security with the State of Israel? Yes. Do we need an anti-BDS law in Texas? In the face of a threatening movement? Sadly, yes.”

Joel Schwitzer, the American Jewish Committee’s regional director in Dallas, told the Post: “AJC recognizes that Comerica Bank, and other financial institutions, are clearly free to do business with whomever they choose. AJC urges banks to consider carefully what it means to extend an account to a discriminatory movement like BDS, which seeks to de-legitimize a single country – and that often intersects with antisemitism.”

Wayne Mielke, a spokesman for Comerica, responded to the Post by email, saying, “We don’t discuss customer relationships, and want you to know (again) that we have a robust compliance program at the bank.”

Mielke’s response is “not good enough. It is a legalistic answer,” said Mariaschin. The question for Comerica is: “Do you want to do business with an organization [IADL] that engages in this type of activity?” Mielke declined follow-up Post queries about whether the bank had launched an investigation into the IADL account and about Comerica’s views on BDS.

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal